Why will China's BeiDou satellite navigation system surpass GPS soon?

Source:Global Times Published: 2019/1/9 17:48:41

China’s satellite navigation system now available around the world, expected to surpass GPS in terms of services

○ China launched its BeiDou satellite navigation system with global coverage on December 27, 2018

○ 11 more satellites will be launched for the BDS-3 by 2020, expanding service to the entire world

○ BDS surpasses GPS by offering unprecedented feature of text messaging

Rocket carrying the 42th and 43th BeiDou satellites blasts into space at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Southwest China's Sichuan Province on November 19, 2018. Photo: VCG

China's BeiDou satellite navigation system (BDS) launched its global service on December 27, 2018.

"From now on, no matter where you go, BDS will always be with you," Director General of the China Satellite Navigation Office Ran Chengqi announced.

At a press conference of the State Council Information Office, Ran said that the construction of the BDS-3 primary system had been completed. "This signifies that BDS has officially entered the global era as it expands from a regional system to a global navigation system."

Since the beginning of BDS development in the 1990s, it has followed a "three-step strategy" - the installation of the demonstration system (BDS-1), the regional system (BDS-2), and the global system (BDS-3).

Significant role

The role of a satellite navigation system is to allow precise positioning of an object on the surface of the Earth.

BDS is China's self-developed and independently operated global satellite navigation system which is compatible with and shares resources with other satellite navigation systems around the world. 

The Global Positioning System (GPS) of the US is able to greatly improve attacking accuracy of weaponry and combat efficiency.

During the Gulf War, with the help of GPS, cruise missiles of the US army made precise strikes, and the US army crossed the desert in the Middle East without knowledge about the local topographical condition.

Scientists work at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center on February 12, 2018 during the launch of 28th and 29th BeiDou satellites. Photo: VCG

Before the launch of BDS, only the US and Russia possessed mature and self-developed satellite navigation systems, and GPS is open to the world free of charge. Why would China have to develop its own navigation system?

The reason is, once the US shuts down its GPS, the Chinese military cannot even use a compass, let along fight a war.

Therefore, China's self-developed satellite navigation system plays a significant role in national defense, as well as in economic development. BDS has become a strategic emerging industry in China, forming a whole industrial chain since BDS has been applied in many devices people use on daily basis such as smartphones, car-mounted navigation terminals and wearable devices.

China speed

BDS is China's self-developed and independently operated global satellite navigation system which is compatible and shares resources with other satellite navigation systems around the world, according to Ran.

China's first satellite for BDS-3 was launched in November 2017, and the launch of BDS-3 satellites follows  a "two-step strategy." The first step is launching 19 satellites by 2019. The second is establishing a global navigation system comprised of 30 satellites.

The first step was attained in just one year in December 2018. "China made a new world speed record in satellite navigation system construction, and made a new frequency record in launching satellites of the same type," said Ran.

Yang Changfeng, chief designer of the BeiDou system, said that the BDS construction project has made a new "China speed."

A total of 30 satellites are designed for three orbits for the BDS-3, and 19 have been launched, making the system ready to provide service globally. Ran said that satellites launched in the next step will be on standby as backup.

The year 2018 was a milestone in the development course of BDS, as well as a fully scheduled year with heavy construction tasks, such as the establishment of the China-Arab States BDS/Global Navigation Satellite System Center, the first overseas center for China's indigenous BDS, and selling more than 70 million units of basic products such as chips and modules for the BeiDou navigation system.


Yang said that from 2019 to 2020, China will launch six medium earth orbit satellites, three inclined geosynchronous orbit satellites and two geostationary orbit satellites for the BDS-3, expanding its service to the entire world by 2020. A more integrated, smart, comprehensive system will be built by 2035.

Wide usage

Opening for civil use in 2011, BDS has been deemed the most promising navigation system since GPS.

One of the highlights of BDS is its nation-wide ground-based network jointly developed by both private and military enterprises, which gives BDS the potential to surpass GPS in features. The joint efforts of leading military and private enterprises will provide users unprecedented and highly accurate navigation service.

Qianxun SI is a Shanghai-based company jointly launched by China North Industries Group Corporation (NORINCO), China's defense industry giant, and Alibaba Group, China's e-commerce giant in August 2015.

As the world's leading high-precision positioning service provider, Qianxun SI provides centimeter-level dynamic positioning and millimeter-level static positioning service based on the fundamental positioning data of BDS, over 2,200 ground-base stations and its self-developed positioning algorithm.

The positioning accuracy of Qianxun SI is 2 to 5 centimeters, and the key parameter of "time to first fix" is reduced to 5 seconds.

Li Geyang, an official of Qianxun SI, said that the reduced FFT is attributed to a signal provided by 2,200 ground-based stations and the satellites. The company also built 120 ground-based stations to provide highly accurate positioning service in areas including deserts, oceans and the upper atmosphere. These stations are expected to go online in 2021.

Yang said that not only will the service range of BDS-3 be enhanced to worldwide, but its accuracy will be twice as high as BDS-2.

BDS has cooperated with many private enterprises in some cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu with its extraordinary performance in precise positioning and text messaging.

BeiDou positioning devices installed in hundreds of thousands of shared bicycles in Beijing makes it easier to find them even under a building or tree. It also helps to compel users to park bicycles in designated areas.

With centimeter-level positioning, BDS can tell which lane a car is driving on, laying a foundation for driverless technology. Benefiting from BDS, delivery drones can land on a customers' balcony, and robot mowers can work within a two-meter-wide grassy area. Thanks to the promotion of private companies, BDS can be applied in many areas.

Text messaging is a feature of BDS that GPS cannot do. For example, fishermen can send text messages via BeiDou satellites on the sea when there is no cellular signal. So far as many as 40,000 fishing boats have installed BDS.

Some outdoor sports equipment manufacturers provide a box with a built-in BDS device to send positions and report on a disaster situation during an emergency incident such as an earthquake or flood.

With the efforts of private companies, a total of 4.8 million vehicles have installed BeiDou positioning devices, including 30,000 taxis, 20,000 buses and 1,500 trucks in Beijing. In some cities in China, BDS is used to monitor hazardous chemical transportation vehicles.

The Chinese Academy of Sciences developed a wild animal monitoring device based on BDS technology. A band fastened on a Tibetan antelope tells scientists its exact location. A farm in North China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region tracks livestock in the pasture with a similar method.

According to the Global Navigation Satellite System and Location Based Service Association of China, China's satellite navigation industry will have a business scale of more than 500 billion yuan ($72 billion) when the BDS-3 is complete in 2020.

Another estimation is that the market share of BDS will top GPS in China, swelling from 2016's 30 percent to 60 percent. 

Vice president of the association Zhang Quande said that the use of BDS has seen a soaring increase. So far BDS has been applied in various sectors such as railways, surveying, mapping, time service, and marine and aviation transportation. In the future, BDS will support a massive industrial chain in civil use.

Global Times

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